• temperament •
Pronunciation: tem-pê-rê-mênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The basic nature or personality of man or animal as revealed in behavior, range of emotion. 2. The dominant physical and mental characteristics of humans according to the medieval theory of humors.
Notes: This word has a trap: an unaccented A in its midst, allowing the pronunciation to become [tempêrmênt]. Unaccented syllables should be pronounced, excepting only by those of us suffering from LVS, the Loose Vowel Syndrome. The vowel is also in the adjective, temperamental "liable to erratic shifts of temperament".
In Play: Temperaments can vary wildly; that is how the sense of temperamental evolved: "The position of company president requires someone with a steady temperament, not someone who gives free rein to it." Some temperaments are better suited for certain jobs, but not others: "Ben Dover doesn't have the temperament for a wrestler."
Word History: Temperament is a noun based on the Latin verb temperare "to temper, to moderate". This verb is apparently derived from a variant of tempus (tempor- with suffixes) "time, season", though the semantic trail is not at all a clear one. There might be a connection between temp- and ten- "stretch", which gave English its thin and Russian tyanut' "to stretch, extend". To change the sound [n] to [m], however, would require a suffix [p], but there is no evidence that Latin contained such a suffix. (Norman Holler was temperamental enough to recommend today's rather volatile Good Word.)